An ABC News reporter recently speculated that drones could become such a routine part of life in the United States that they would be the tool of choice to find lost dogs or cats.
Finding pets is not what’s worrying civil rights advocates and others who are paying attention to the increasing use of drones.
They are alarmed by the idea that a drone could track citizens through their cell phones, identify them through a handgun, pepper them with rubber bullets to intimidate them or just blast them off the face of the Earth with live ammunition.
It is for these reasons that Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and several others today staged a filibuster in the U.S. Senate against President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan as CIA director.
It is under Brennan’s watch as national security adviser that Obama’s use of drones has mushroomed overseas, and individuals, including American citizens, have been targeted.
Part of the impetus for Paul’s filibuster was Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement that a drone attack could be ordered on a U.S. citizen on American soil.
On the Senate floor, Paul said: “If our country is a battlefield, if our country is a war zone, what is left? What are we fighting for it we are not going to fight for our rights at home?”
Drones have played a major role for the U.S. effort against Islamic terrorism. Run from command centers in the U.S., they can identify and kill terrorist leaders.
The Department of Defense recently stirred controversy by creating a new medal, ranking higher than the Purple Heart, for the people who control the drones from Tampa and Las Vegas.
Now the Washington Times is reporting that the Department of Homeland Security holds technology that can enable a drone to determine if a civilian is carrying a gun.
Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb told Breitbart News that such a move could violate Fourth Amendment and Second Amendment rights.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained documentation through a Freedom of Information request that Predator B drones “shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not.”
Also proposed is an “interception” program that can track cell phones.
A CBS report says the idea of lethal force coming on Americans from the air is a concern.
“It’s simply not appropriate to use … force, lethal or non-lethal, on a drone,” a civil rights attorney said.
Joshua Foust of the American Security Project said that “from a legal perspective, there is nothing problematic about floating a drone over a city.”
However, he said, “In terms of getting armed drones, I would be very nervous about that happening right now.”
In Montgomery County, Texas, Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel said a drone could be armed with tear gas and rubber bullets.
“Those are things that law enforcement utilizes day in and day out and in certain situations it might be advantageous to have this type of system,” he said.
Paul’s alarm stems from Holder’s statement that using armed drones against Americans in the U.S. is not impossible.
Holder told Paul in response to a question from the senator that the U.S. never has carried out a drone strike against a U.S. citizen on American soil and it would be “unlikely.”
However, Holder also said he could not rule it out entirely.
“It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” Holder’s letter said.
He confirmed Obama “has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”
Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican who joined Paul’s filibuster effort today, said he would like to see more of the arguments the Obama administration has used on behalf of drones explained.
Lee today pressed Holder for access to the documents and guidelines on which Obama and Brennan apparently have been singling out individuals for destruction.
NBC News obtained an abbreviated version of an administration policy statement that said the government can kill a U.S. citizen with a drone strike if the citizen is a suspected terrorist who is an “imminent threat.”
Lee warned such language and standards are open for abuse.
The ABC reporter who said drones would be used to find missing pets was on camera:
Already, Americans have been told there could be tens of thousands of drones flying overhead within a few years, by organizations ranging from sheriff's office to university research teams.
But states are not waiting for Washington to sort out the issues. A number already have proposed state limits, including a ban on weaponization in Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, New Hampshire and Georgia.
Also, several states have provided farmers and ranchers protection from aerial surveillance, and some states are thinking about requiring a public reporting of drone activities.